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Up, Up, and An Aquarium

Friday 1 July 2016

So now we are back in YVR (Vancouver B.C.’s airport) to catch our flight to LHR (that’s Heathrow).

If you’ve visited Vancouver and you came from the U.S., you landed at the U.S. part of the airport. YVR is one of those airports where you actually clear U.S. Immigration and Customs before you board; handy when you arrive wherever you’re going, but definitely adds a few minutes to the security process. On the way in to Canada, you get to pass through the rather grand International Arrivals Hall, which has a great native totem at one end. It’s huge! And far more interesting than, say, the arrivals hall at ORD.

But it’s when you head out of Canada to another country that’s not the U.S. that you get a special treat. In this case, you will be passing through the International Departures Hall, which takes all the good stuff from the arrivals hall and amplifies it by about a factor of five. It’s a big mall, with aircraft gates, surrounding these big water features:

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Seriously, there’s a HUGE aquarium in the middle of the airport, with yet another of those cool native-themed carvings above it. This is definitely the airport for that longish layover.

Important safety tip (for your luggage): if you have a long layover, check in with the airline agents at least 90 minutes ahead of departure. We happened to stop at BA’s desk on our way back in, and were cautioned that had we just gone straight to the gate, they might have unloaded our checked luggage, and then when we arrived at the gate, might not have had time to reload it. They won’t take a chance on carrying luggage without the passenger to whom it belongs.

So here’s the plane:

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That’s one freakishly big plane. In case the size isn’t apparent, the A380-800 is 238′ long with a wingspan of 261′. To put that in context, from the middle of the aircraft to the tip of one wing is longer than a whole 737. The top of the vertical stabilizer (the tail) is 79′ above the ground. In BA’s 4-class arrngement, it carries 469 passengers; it is certified to carry up to 853 passengers.

As you can see, it is boarded from two separate skyways, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. The classes are split between the decks: First in the nose on the main deck; Biz at the front of the upper deck and aft of First on the main deck; Premium Econ on both decks behind those, and regular Econ at the aft of each deck. The bathrooms at the very front of the upper deck (reserved for Biz use) are HUGE, like 5’x8′.

Here’s a shot of the upper deck in Biz:

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You can see how the pods face each other in a staggered array; it’s 2-3-2 on the upper deck and 2-4-2 on the lower. Econ is 3-4-3 on the main deck, just for comparison.

The seat area is reasonably roomy, but not huge. The footrest at the end folds down to form part of the “bed”; the tray table is the metal panel to the left, with the IFE screen above it. There’s also a little drawer down at my feet.

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Problems with this seat are covered better elsewhere, but the main ones are: it’s narrow; solo travelers inevitably wind up facing a stranger for potentially long periods across the lowered partition; half the passengers have to step over the legs of the other half to get in and out of the seats; the storage is poor, except in the upper deck windows where there are small bays under the windows; there is a USB charging port and power ports, but no place to stash the device being charged.

But, it still beats the heck out of any Econ service.

This is a cool set of photos. Aside from the time of day, and assuming the aircraft is level in each, what’s the difference?

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It’s the wingtips. The wings flex as much as 4m (that’s over 13′) at take-off. By all measures, this is a crazy big aircraft.

So what else? Not much. We ate (very good food, even by ground restaurant standards), wine, teas (of course), and snacks for the taking all night. Martha’s seat almost wouldn’t go flat, and then almost wouldn’t go back to the required takeoff and landing position. The staff were very friendly. The plane is very quiet at night, especially the upper deck. The flight was very smooth. The IFE was pretty good, with a decent selection of movies.

At the end, sometime before landing, one of the cabin crew introduced herself and asked us a number of questions about how we found the trip, the aircraft, and BA Biz class. I think they are doing this with first-time Biz passengers, as (spoiler alert!) they didn’t do this on the trip back. It was a little odd, being approached that way when most of the passengers were not, but in hindsight it did seem that they were genuinely interested in how we did (or didn’t) enjoy the flight.

Immigration and Customs at Heathrow were uneventful. We disembarked at T3, which is an older terminal; it gave us our first taste of “oh yeah, Europeans don’t believe in lots of air conditioning”. We would get lots more of that in the following weeks. Biz class usually gets you priority lanes through Immigration and Customs, which helps. Baggage retrieval and meeting our driver were uneventful. View of the parking garage:

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Takeaways from this part of the trip:

  • YVR is a great place for a layover, long or short.
  • BA Biz class is ok but not great, especially if you’re paying cash (we weren’t)
  • Confirm that you’re checked in when you return to the airport. Treat every long connection as a fresh flight.
  • Definitely get a car with driver from Heathrow, especially if you have any amount of large luggage. JustAirports.com has been good for us. If you are traveling light, us the Heathrow Express train from T5 to Paddington Station.

London! will have to wait until next time.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Elaine Plaisance permalink
    Friday 1 July 2016 8:56 AM

    Very, very helpful information!

  2. Friday 1 July 2016 10:28 AM

    love the pics. I feel as if I have experienced a biz class flight on the world’s biggest plane even though I know I haven’t. The pods are so weird in a good way, it would be fun to travel that way with a group! Or luck out and end up with fellow passengers that I really liked.

    • Friday 1 July 2016 12:21 PM

      There are several excellent and more comprehensive reviews online, although I think somewhat drier.

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